Susquehanna was Michael R. Brown‘s second volume of poetry, originally released in 2003 as a print edition from Ragged Sky Press. Other books include Falling Wallendas (Tia Chucha), The Man Who Makes Amusement Rides and The Confidence Man from Hanover Press, and The Martin Bormann Dog Care Book (Resolute Bear Press).
The Susquehanna River flows from upstate New York to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. It is the longest river on the American east coast. The broad, shallow waters also make the Susquehanna the longest, non-commercially navigable river in the country. The river is a slow roll through the countryside, as are the poems in this collection, with sketches of the people found along the river, reminiscent of Spoon River Anthology, people defined by their names, jobs, and standing in the community. Michael R. Brown looks at these lives with an unflinching eye and tells their stories with equanimity, grace, and wit.
Some of the poems in the collection:
The Truck Driver (Spurgeon Wallick)
The Gravedigger (Gus Weil)
The Garbage Man (John Kurzon)
The Poet (Gardner Mifflin)
The Librarian (Mildred Slaugh)
The Policewoman (Carol Grab)
The Piano Teachers (Gail Fremont and Lydia Montague)
The Fireman (Dick Steffy)
The Doctor (Dorothy Haldeman)
The Town Drunk (Ringneck Showalter)
The Undertaker (Vincent Long)
The Sunday Choir
The Minister (Rev. Wickenheiser)
The Physician (Doc Roeser)
The Queen of Front Street (Clarisse Coleman)
The Vagrant (Stan Weiss)
The Oldest Woman in Town (Patricia Eberhart)
The Man Who Owned the Susquehanna (Dutch Wallick)
Mount Bethel Cemetery
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When Michael Brown graduated from college in 1962, he moved immediately to Philadelphia and enrolled in the Intern Teaching Program at Temple University. He taught at William Penn High, an all-black high school for girls. No one then was teaching writing, but doing that would make the students employable. When they began writing, Brown began, too. After an additional two years in Bucks County, with his master’s degree and a couple of summers teaching at Temple, the University of Michigan enrolled him in a double major in English and Education. Campus politics gave his writing a political turn. His dissertation covered the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, directed by Robert Hayden.
East Texas State University hired him to head a Ph.D. program in the teaching of English. He published his first poems. Through the 1970’s he moved to Central (Ohio) State, Western Michigan University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In 1983 Chicago State hired him. He was an exchange professor in South Korea for two years. By 1990 he became involved with the poetry slam, married the best-known performer, and moved with her to Boston. He settled at Mount Ida College, eventually as Director of the Communications Program. Meanwhile, he and his wife started the Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab, a venue that continues today. Such prominence in slam and poetry brought trips to Europe, exchanges with Irish artists, and coordinating the first Poetry Olympics in Stockholm. Falling Wallendas (1994) was published by Tia Chucha. Susquehanna (Ragged Sky) and The Man Who Makes Amusement Rides (Hanover) came out in 2003. The Confidence Man (Ragged Sky) in 2006.
In 2007, he and Valerie Lawson moved to Downeast Maine where they take in retired sled dogs. For eight years they published the poetry quarterly Off the Coast and now run Resolute Bear Press. Their front windows look across the Passamaquoddy Bay to St. Andrews, NB. He continues to teach and write. The Martin Bormann Dog Care Book collects political poems from the last 50 years.